John van der Veen
What is a rescue mission? I mean really. Not to sound dramatic on this, but isn't the call of missions placed on all followers of Jesus? Now if that is true, then isn't a work of mission really a work of rescuing? There is a lost world outside and Jesus has commissioned us to go after it with life and joy - to rescue people from the jaws of death, the devil and hell itself.
David Lomas believes that to be true. He heard the word of the Lord to go, and that is exactly what he did. He went. David didn't go to a Bible-belt community where it may be a bit easier to teach and preach. No. He went to one of this countries most ungodly cities.
David serves as the lead pastor at Reality in San Francisco, a church community that started in 2010 in the Castro District. According to Wikipedia, "the Castro remains one of the most prominent symbols of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender activism and events." He lives, with his wife Ashley, in one of the most un-churched cities in the nation, but one that is bursting with new life and grace of God. The Reality family of churches is a growing movement committed to relational church planting and serving the broader body of Christ.
I had to talk with this man. I wanted to hear his story and hear from him about what God was doing. Let me say this - The Gospel is alive in the Castro District and Jesus continues to change people into the likeness of Himself!
John: David, I'm wondering before with get started and talk about your book that just came out, would you be willing to give us a little bit of background information? Who is David Lomas, where did you came from, how you got into the position that you are now, as both a pastor and as a author.
David: Yeah, so I was born and raised in the central valley of California, so right now, I live in San Francisco. About 3, 4 hours south of here, almost to LA, is a little town right in the middle of California, called Bakersfield. Born and raised there. Didn't grow up in a Christian home at all. Was invited to church several times growing up. I always said that it was against my religion to go to church. Didn't really have a religion but it didn't involve church.
I reluctantly went one time when I was like in 6th grade, and it was a very pentecostal church, and I was scared to death. I never went back to church, and then my freshman year of high school, a friend of mine started playing in a worship band at his church, and he was in a band that I would go and watch, like where I can get in as a freshman in high school, like pizza places and stuff like that. He invited me to church and said, "My band is playing at church," and I thought that was weird, but I went, and it was pretty fun.
Then, right around I think my junior year of high school ... I didn't really go back that much. Junior of high school, I made a decision, I don't even know what it was. It might have been growing up kind of marginally Catholic, so it might have been those Catholic roots, but I'm like, okay, no matter what happens, when I wake up on Sunday morning from partying or whatever, I'm going to go to church. I don't even know why I did that. I think it was God just calling me, but I had no idea at the time why I was doing this.
I would wake up random places on Sunday morning from partying all Saturday night, and I would wake up everyone to go to church. Like, "Hey, church starts at 10:30. It's 10:00. Everybody, wake up and let's get to church." I was like an evangelist before I was even saved. I'm like, "Let's get to church and there's free coffee and donuts there, so let's sober up." We'd get there, and we'd listen to the teaching, and I don't know, I just would go.
I befriended a youth pastor there, and they invited me to a Wednesday night church one time, and I thought that was the strangest thing. I'm like, "You're going to church twice in a week? That's absurd. I mean, once is enough. What are you doing?" We were in a room, Wednesday night Bible study youth group. We were going around, sharing like, "When did you come into a personal relationship with Christ?" That was the question that everyone had to answer. I mean, I had no idea how to answer that question. I didn't even know that was a thing.
I turned to my friend who invited me years ago. I'm like, "Hey," his name was Daniel, "Daniel, what do I say? Like, when it gets to my turn, what do I say?" He goes, "Don't worry. Just say, you don't know Jesus on that level yet," and I'm like, "Oh, that's a good one. I'm going to use that one."
My turn and the youth pastor just says, "Dave, when did you come into a personal relationship with Jesus?" I go, "Well, I don't know Jesus on that level yet." I just look to my right, like next please, like he's going to pass over me, but I didn't know I was just pitching him right down the center, lob ball. I mean, this is every youth pastor's dream was to get this question, and he said, "Well, Dave," and he just pressed in, "If you died tonight, would you go to heaven or hell?" I'm like, "I'd go to heaven, no problem, easy." He's like, "Why ... "
I seriously thought in my head, I'm good enough. I'm good enough to get into heaven. He shared with me the gospel, and that night, I said the prayer to become a Christian. I think it was more of a fire insurance sort of thing, and then, I didn't change anything. Still sold drugs, still partied, and then about maybe 4 or 5 months later, I got kicked out of school for selling drugs, and my friend had just given me a Bible, same friend that invited me to church years ago.
I opened it up, after getting kicked out of school not knowing what to do with my life, opened it up in the middle of the book to the book of Job, but I thought it said "job," and I'm like, "I need a job. That's what I need."
John: Yeah, of course.
David: I'm going to read this to get a job. I started reading it, 4 chapters in, God called me and said, "You can go to ... " well, it was just the whole Proverbs thing. "You go down this road and it leads to death or you can go down this road, it leads to life." I said, "I'm going to follow Jesus. I'm going to give up everything and follow him."
I got rid of all my drugs that night, called my youth pastor up, said, "I'm a Christian now. I'm going to follow Jesus. Disciple me." Well, I didn't say that, but you know. "I want to follow Jesus now." He discipled me, got into ministry, and started doing youth ministry when I graduated high school. Was ordained at 21. God started giving me favor in doing ministry, and I loved it.
I became a youth pastor and then a young adult pastor, and then, I met a friend in Santa Barbara, who said, "I want to plant a church," and he basically invited me to become a part of Reality, and I moved there, to Santa Barbara, and then from Santa Barbara, God called me to San Francisco to plant a church in San Francisco.
We started the church in 2010, and it's just turned 4 years old, and it's been wild. It's been absolutely wild.
John: Was there a point, as you were reading through the book of Job ... like obviously something sparked in your life. Was there, what am I saying here, like a resonating story between the two of you, between both Job dealing with all of these really harsh realities of his circumstances and maybe a little bit of what you were going through as an individual?
David: Absolutely. I had a student Bible (I know you guys sell them at your store), but I got one that was put out, I don't know, in the early 90s, or mid 90s, and when I opened it up to Job, it said, "When bad things happen to good people," was the student Bible heading over that, and I'm like, "That's me. I am good," I was still convinced of my goodness, "I'm good. I'm not nearly as bad as all my other friends. Why me? Why did I get kicked out of school?"
I read it, and what struck me was Job was being tested, was allowed to be tested by God, and I had zero Bible knowledge, but I somehow resonated with that going, "Maybe God is testing me and he wants to get my attention, and will I curse God or will I choose to follow him?" It was at that moment that I really had a vision, I think a vision of God. Christ going, "Choose. This way or this way. This way leads to death. This way leads to life."
John: Your life has been changed ever since.
David: Yeah, absolutely. It was that moment of repentance, turning from my ways to God's ways. I prayed the prayer before. I don't know what it did. I can't even tell you what it did. I might have made me receptive to when the Spirit called me, but that moment, the Spirit of God called me, and I turned repentant and followed him, and that was the moment it all changed for me.
John: David, this is not a secret, but you have chosen to pastor a church in one of the most un-Christian cities here in the US. I'm curious maybe about your thoughts as far as being a pastor in a dark place, like where you guys have chosen residency, and what does that mean as far as other cities? Are you saying that the rest of the US is doing that much better spiritually than San Francisco, or what? Just give your thoughts on that.
David: Yeah. I think that San Francisco is just as sinful as everyone else, but everyone else manages their sin better. You might have religious sin somewhere. Other cities might wrestle with different types of sin. San Francisco just sins a lot more out loud, a lot more colorfully, but just as sinful. I mean, I've lived in Southern California. I lived in beautiful Santa Barbara, and people just sin. It's the same rebellion as in other places.
Ministering here? I love ministering here. I heard one time someone say that when they ministered in Texas they would have to convince people they're not a Christian before they could share the gospel. I'm like, "Wow, that would be really hard, to tell someone they're not," like, "You're not a Christian. Just because you go to church doesn't make you a Christian." They had to convince them that they're not first, like cultural Christianity doesn't count, and that this is what the true gospel is.
Here, I don't have to work through that layer. Here, I can just say, "This is the gospel," and people here have rejected it so much that it really shines. You hold up the smallest light, and it shines in the darkness, and so, I'm able to get up every Sunday morning and preach truth and it's just black and white, and I love that. I love that opportunity, so ministering here has been one of the joys of my life.
After living in San Francisco for just 3 months, my wife and I felt like God created us to live here. Everything great about this city, we love it. We love the diversity and the complexity of it, the culture of it, the colorfulness of it, the density, I mean, all of it, the food. Just everything about San Francisco, we love. We absolutely love. The architecture, the topography, everything.
We feel like we're created to live here and then not only are we created to live here, but we're called to preach the gospel here, and it's needed and it's like a healing balm to people as soon as they hear it because it's so different than what they hear normally in San Francisco.
John: David, are people responding well to the message of the gospel?
David: Yeah. When I moved here, everyone said, "You're going to the graveyard of churches." I mean, prominent churches and pastors have tried to plant churches here and have put millions of dollars of effort in planning a church here, and almost all of them have failed, and so they said, "So and so has tried it and so and so has tried it and so and so has tried it. Good luck. It's where churches go to die. Have fun," like, "There you go."
I had very low expectations. The church was sending us to plant here. I told them, "Give us 10 years before this church is established. Give us 5 to 10 years of funding and support, because this church is going to take a long time to bring 100 people to get critical mass," and the very first Sunday, it just was packed. I have no idea how, like zero promotion. Our website was horrible. You couldn't even find it even if you Googled our name. I have no idea.
We had a group of people, like 35, 40 people praying, and then our first Sunday, close to 200 people showed up, and then, it just hasn't stopped growing from there, from our very first Sunday. People were very, very hungry for the gospel, and we just came at a ... I don't know. There's a time, San Francisco was just coming up. Our nation was coming out of a recession. San Francisco was leading the way in that, and all these start-ups were happening, all the stuff that the whole world is hearing about right now and happening in San Francisco was starting to happen in 2009, 2010.
We just came right there, and I think there was this catalytic sort of moment, there was something in the air here where God was doing something different, and our church was just right there at that right time. I have no idea how it worked, but it's working. We great to 4 services. We have 4 services going on. We had to turn people away from church because we couldn't fit them in the room, and we just recently got into a bigger building that seats like 1400 people, but we're packed again. We're at capacity, and we don't know what to do next.
Yeah, I don't know. God's just doing it. I don't know.
John: I heard once before of a church that was being planted in a large city that seemed to be kind of living through this more casual approach to Christianity where it was more of a cultural or a club kind of atmosphere. Almost everybody went to church, but hardly anybody had a real relationship with Jesus, and to some extent, that church, when they started, they just raised a banner on the flagpole saying, "Hey, we are a church that is all about the centrality of the gospel. We're all about Jesus and wanting to see and understand how he changes us," and the same thing kind of happened.
It sounds to me that to some extent, you guys are in that same type of approach. You're preaching the gospel to people, to a people that are just very hungry for it.
David: Yeah, absolutely. When we first started the church, we said we're a theological community that's centered around Christ, and we'll preach, which is like we'll have conversation, but we're going to preach the gospel. As we've done that, as we've proclaimed Christ and made Christ central, God has drawn people to himself. We didn't come in trying to be like this really cool, hip thing. People thought our name was Reality, because we were so real, like, "Are you guys because you're real?"
We stripped everything down to no production at all at the church, basically a band, but they weren't even spotlighted. You couldn't even see who was on the stage, and you could see the words on the screen, and that was proclaiming the theology of what we were singing, and that was it. People were like, it was so refreshing to people. They were like, "That's so refreshing." The emphasis is off the people and on God and it's transcendent and it's beautiful, and so, yeah, absolutely.
John: That's fantastic. David, you have a new book that you just came out with with David C Cook Publishers. Titled The Truest Thing About You. What is behind this? Give us the 30,000-foot view of this book and how it's speaking into the identity of those that you guys are ministering to.
David: Yeah, I guess, I'll give you a little back story behind the book that probably captures why we wrote the book, why I wrote the book, and why we put it out.
About a 1-1/2 years into the church, we were growing, like we were saying and like I was saying, and we just got finished with the book of Mark, and it was great, and people were falling in love with Jesus, people were speaking the name of Jesus and getting baptized in Jesus' name. It was just great. It just Christ centered. It was a beautiful thing.
After that, we were seeing all these people turn to Christ, but then, they were still sinning in the church, and I don't know what I expected, but I expected, you come in contact with the real Christ, and he'll completely change your life. He'll change your lifestyle, and we weren't seeing that as much, and so, I wanted to teach them holiness, and I wanted to bring down the hammer of holiness.
I told me executive pastor. I'm like, "I'm going to teach them holiness after Mark, and I'm going to make people like ... " I almost put my youth pastor hat back on and make people sign pledges and wear promise rings and stuff like that. I realized if I start doing this, if I want to teach on holiness the way I want to teach on it, everyone will feel like they've been duped. Like, "You brought us in with the gospel, and now, you're putting on us the law." That sort of thing.
I felt like I can't do that. I know that there's something wrong, not resonating with me there, and then, as I was reading through the New Testament and I wanted to teach on a book and I came to Colossians 2 and 3, and Paul is talking to the church in Colossae, saying that these lists that you keep doing, he says in chapter that do not touch, do not taste, do not feel, these sort of rules that you put on Christianity do nothing to restrain your sensual indulgences.
Then, he goes right into chapter 3, which is all about Christian sanctification, and he says, but who you are in Christ, the fact that Christ is your life, you have to live from there that identity. I took that and I was starting to go through it and finding all these places where I was realizing before God ever tells us what to do, he tells us who we are, so every single command of holiness is based on a truth about us. Then, I was like, I don't think I've ever really understood that to the level of profoundness that I did when I was studying it for a series, and I said, "I need to teach our church how to find their identity in Christ."
What I did, this was 2011, and I couldn't find that many good books on identity, and I'm like, this is it. I started teaching on it, and everyone started resonating with it. I almost feel like no one's talking about this, like who I am in Christ, make that the basis of my entire identity and then from there flows holiness, from there flows what I'm supposed to do, from that flows the commandments, and then, it started tapping into what ways people find their identity in, especially in San Francisco.
They move here to work. They move here to express themselves sexually. They move here to flaunt what they have, and when we do that, we find our identity in a job, in a thing, in a sexual orientation or desire, and that's not where we're called to find our identity.
From that series of identity comes this book, so this book is all about who we are in Christ, getting all the way back to Imago Dei. How we were created, and then letting that, those hints of creation, who we are, who we were created to be really, give us signposts to who God wants to remake us into and being conformed to the image of his son, and then taking that from because of who we are in Christ, then what we're called to do, there's power behind that. We can actually live into our identity in Christ because of who we are.
Then, it goes into every single command of God is based on the truth about us, and that's the whole title of the book, The Truest Thing About You. Once you find the truest thing and you realize and come to understand and accept the truest thing about us, everything else flows from there, and so, that's like a high level of what the book is about. It's about identity. It's about our desires, and it's about why all those things really matter in our walk with Christ, and I think it's the whole point of sanctification.
John: There's a foreword in the book by another pastor, Francis Chan. How did that come about?
David: Francis is a good friend of mine. We met here in San Francisco. He moved here, I think, 2011. The church was just turning a year old, and I remember him showing up to church and we had a mutual friend. My friend said, "Hey, you should go to Dave's church since you're in San Francisco. Check it out." He came one Sunday and we had lunch afterwards, and we just kind of hit it off. Our hearts were kindred, like our hope for the church, our hopes for San Francisco, our hopes for what the gospel can do in the life of a person. We just kind of connected.
We've been friends for several years now. I wrote this book, and I sent it to Francis, saying, "Hey, I'd love if you could endorse the book or maybe thinking about writing a foreword to the book or whatever," and so, he's like, I mean, he probably gets that 100 times a day. I would imagine everyone in the world wants Francis to do something in the book. I sent it to him not expecting anything back, and he read it on his plane ride to China. He got to China, and he emailed me immediately. He said, "Hey, I don't have time to tell you that much stuff, but I deeply love this book. Like, it moved me. It changed the way I think about things."
Then it was almost like a little weird ... It was kind of weird to me, but it was almost like a little confession saying, "I think I've pushed people to mission not based on their identity in Christ but based on you have to do this for God," and he goes, "I was so convinced that I needed to tell people who they are in Christ." I was blown away. I was like, "Wow, thank you," all this other stuff, and I said, "Let me know if you would consider writing something for the book."
He said, "Hey, I wrote you a letter, and you can do whatever you want with it. You could put it in the book as is. You could change it to be more like a foreword or an endorsement, whatever, or you could just ditch it, whatever you want to do." We read it, and it was just such a heartfelt letter of how this book changed the way I see and pastor and even parent as well as other stuff, and we just thought, "Hey, I'm going to leave it in just as it is, and so the foreword of the book is basically a letter that he wrote to me, telling how the book really impacted his life.
John: That's so cool. All right. I'm going to read a little bit here, just one quote at the very end, and then, I just have one more question for you, David.
You write at the end "Christ is your life. He gives you a new identity and will work that new identity out in your life until the day when he appears. On that day, you will finally see clearly as Christ sees you now. You will know as you are known." What a great promise that is. That's awesome. I've been challenged by this book, and I want to encourage anybody who's reading this interview to go out and pick up a copy of David Lomas' new book, The Truest Thing About You. It's a good book, it's a challenging book.
I wrestled as I was reading this book. There were a couple of parts in it as I was going through, and I was like, "I don't like where he's going with this," and then, of course, by the end of the chapter, I was like, "Of course, yes. This makes sense," and I felt like God was hitting me over the head with a 2 x 4, which was great.
Hey, I have to ask, are you a coffee drinker or a Mountain Dew drinker? What is your culture like in San Francisco?
David: I don't remember the last time I had a Mountain Dew. Coffee all the way, absolutely. The culture here in San Francisco is a insane coffee culture, almost too insane, almost too snobby. Yeah, it's just like insane.
John: Now, is it like froo-froo coffee for you, or is it just like, hey, straight up black coffee?
David: Oh, straight up. Like, I'll add some milk or something to it, but yeah, every morning.
John: Anyway, David, hey, thank you so much, man, for chatting with me today. I really appreciate it. God bless you, brother. Thank you very much.
For more on David's book, click here.
“The truth hurts, the phrase goes, but Dave Lomas shows how the truest truth blesses and heals. Read this book and be reminded, or hear for the first time, that you are beloved. Trust it is true, and love will change your life. Enjoy Lomas’ masterful fusion of pastoral compassion, writerly wit, and spiritual sincerity.”
Jenell Paris, professor of anthropology at Messiah College and author of The End of Sexual Identity
“We live in a world where it is so incredibly easy to have what we think about ourselves subtly and sometimes not so subtly shaped by culture, people, and our own insecurities. The Truest Thing about You is a compass and a map that will help us see how we may have missed the incredible way God created us to be and how He sees us, which is our true identity. Too many people live their lives not understanding what Dave writes about here and what a joy it is thinking about how people’s lives will radically change if they grasp the truths within this book.”
Dan Kimball, pastor of Vintage Faith and author of They Like Jesus But Not the Church
“Dave Lomas is not only a great pastor and author, but a great friend. Over the last few years my heart has been broken beyond my wildest imagination as I watched my young daughter die of cancer. There were times that I would not have made it through if Dave were not there to shepherd my soul with the same great wisdom, insight, compassion and incisive truth that overflows this book. I am so thankful for him and the way that this book will serve to heal and propel so many into the mission of Christ.”
Britt Merrick, pastor and author of Godspeed
“The Truest Thing about You is an important book. It’s important because it cuts to the core of what it means to be human, what it means to be loved by God, and what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. And this is not just theory. Dave writes from deep experiences pastoring in one of America’s most identity-rich cities. Rarely has a book gotten to the heart of the issue with such precision and skill. I believe this will be a powerful tool for helping people be more transformed into the image of Jesus.”
Jon Tyson, lead pastor at Trinity Grace Church New York
“We are a generation haunted by the question: who am I? More than ever before, we wander through life confused and lost amid the panoply of options. In a cultural milieu of one identity crisis after another, Dave Lomas’ first book comes as firm ground under our feet. Dave is a friend I know and respect. He’s smart, humble, kind, self-effacing, and he has something to say. I encourage you to listen up.”
John Mark Comer, pastor for teaching and vision at Bridgetown and author of Loveology
“Dave Lomas is hitting on one of the great felt needs of our generation by asking this transformative question: What is the truest thing about you? His perspective on identity is truly needed, flipping the entire subject on its head and driving to the center of who we are as people, and ultimately as leaders. Is it what you do? Is it what you're good at? Is it who you know? The answer is so much bigger than these things. I urge you not to miss this important book!”
Brad Lomenick, author of The Catalyst Leader and President and Key Visionary of Catalyst
"There is only one thing more important than who you think you are … that's who God knows you are. Our lives are full of opportunities to define ourselves by what we do, have, or desire, but with honesty and wisdom, Dave Lomas brings us back to the truest thing about you. This book is for everyone who wonders 'who am I, really?' … which is everyone!"
Nicole Unice, Christian counselor and coauthor of Start Here